GMEN HQ continues its positional breakdown series with news, notes and analysis on a six-pack of RB’s.
If it was easy to predict which players would make a team, coaches wouldn’t spend hours in meetings discussing roster cuts. Teams would pick 53 players and a practice squad and immediately begin preparations for the season.
The Giants currently have six running backs on their depth chart. We don’t know how many they will keep for the season, but we can probably assume that they won’t be keeping all of them. By breaking down key factors that affect a back’s on-field performance — skill level, professional experience, running style and versatility — we can make a profoundly educated guess on which men you’ll see toting the ball on the field in 2014.
RB, Liberty University
Rashad Jennings‘ roster spot is safe and he figures to open the season as a starter. Jennings was brought in as a free agent (4-years $10 million) because he is competent in all of the skills that the Giants desire in a running back. He runs, catches, and blocks, but does not excel in any single category. Do not mistake this characterization as a dig or negative against Jennings, as he’s capable of achieving all three of these attributes at an NFL level. What remains to be seen, however, is evidence that he can become more than a jack-of-all-trades. Can he develop into a “bellcow” as Jerry Reese envisions?
Jennings will begin the season as the #1 running back on the Giants roster but could potentially be eclipsed by a breakout performance from another member of the backfield. On the other hand, if he excels, Jennings has a chance to fill a role as a true 3-down back and could keep his colleagues on the sideline. In 2013, he rushed for 733 yards and 6 touchdowns on 163 carries in addition to 36 receptions for 292 yards with the Oakland Raiders.
RB, Boston College
Other than Jennings, rookie Andre Williams has the safest roster spot in the backfield. He was drafted early enough to suggest that the Giants’ front office has faith in his talent, and his college production shows that he has the durability and power to survive training camp. Williams, despite the fact that he has extremely limited experience (or even competency) as a pass catcher, has the natural runner instincts to succeed in the NFL — patience, see the hole, hit the hole with fury.
Behind a competent offensive line, Williams will churn out yards upon yards upon yards. In 2013, he rushed for 2177 yards and 18 touchdowns on 355 carries at Boston College. Williams also won the 2013 Doak Walker Award for the nation’s premiere running back for his senior season performance.
RB, Virginia Tech
This would be the 1-2-3 punch that the Giants most desire: Jennings as an all-purpose back, Williams as a power between-the-tackles runner, and David Wilson as a cutback-sprint-pitch speedster. Wilson has the talent and skill despite whatever you’ve heard from pessimistic fans and fantasy owners. Believe me that this is one 1st round pick that is not anywhere close to a bust.
Before his injury, Wilson was an elusive back that broke multiple tackles before even approaching the line of scrimmage. Early indications from the Giants’ coaching staff suggest that Wilson will be cleared on July 21st when his fused neck receives another scan. If he’s healthy, expect Wilson to take full advantage of a redesigned offensive line. In 2013, he rushed for 146 yards and one touchdown prior to going down in week 5.
RB, University of Arkansas
Peyton Hillis was either an underrated star or a liability last year, depending on who you ask. It has been reported that Hillis looks bigger and more muscular than last year, which is understandable considering the difference between an NFL off-season and a season spent plowing fields on a tractor. However, his use last year suggests that the Giants coaching staff views Hillis as a stopgap measure. His slot as a power runner could be in danger especially with Andre Williams now entering the fray.
Hillis’ real value is in his versatility and intellect as a blocker and, at times, a security blanket receiver. In 2013, he rushed for 247 yards and two touchdowns on 73 carries in addition to 13 receptions for 96 yards with the Giants.
It’s hard to provide deep analysis on Cox’s performance because his opportunities were limited. In the few moments where Cox played in games, he showed mixed decision making on returns with occasional glimpses of powerful, decisive running on offense. Cox has the talent to succeed as a developmental RB, but could potentially lose a roster spot considering the other experience/depth of bodies at the position.
The Giants brought in several free agents last year rather than providing Cox with more chances in NFL games. Their reluctance to rely on him does not paint the best picture of his future with the team. In 2013, he rushed for 43 yards on 22 carries in addition to his return duties.
RB, Richmond College
Gaskins entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the Buffalo Bills in 2013, and the Giants signed him to a future/reserve contract before the end of last season. Reports from those attending Organized Training Activities are that Gaskins has participated in kickoff return drills as well as running back drills with the 3rd team. Considering that his body type is closer to a FB/RB than a returner, it’s likely these drills were experimental in nature.
There are sparsely available reports suggest that Gaskins may challenge Cox for a roster spot. In 2013, Gaskins did not log any rushing attempts with the Bills. However, in 2012 at Richmond College, he scored 13 rushing touchdowns and three receiving touchdowns.